Julianna Mercado ’23 launches a nonprofit venture, UpSkill

headshot of a student in a black shirt

Julianna Mercado, class of ‘23, a biochemistry and forensic science major, is working hard to make a long-lasting impact on her college and community. Born and raised on Long Island, she wasn’t exposed often to inequities in the U.S. because she grew up in a predominantly white, middle class family. After coming to Syracuse, she had an eye-opening experience of the inequities the surrounding community faced. Throughout her time working as an EMT, she was exposed to children living in poor conditions and realized she wanted to use her knowledge and privilege to become a support system for those in need. She created a tutoring and mentoring program, UpSkill. UpSkill as a 501(c) nonprofit and registered student organization designed to support educational equity through accessible academic resources.

Julianna understood the difficulties communities struggled to obtain the same educational and financial means to learn. Driven by her empathy, her goal was to provide a resource that offered academic assistance, financial capability, and guidance. Julianna states. “I want to change this. In whatever capacity I can, I want to ensure that socioeconomic barriers do not prevent students from reaching their educational goals.” UpSkill is an academic resource at no cost for students, and they receive tutoring and mentoring assistance through the guidance of Syracuse students. Her idea began while the rest of the world was battling the difficulties of academic life through the pandemic. Julianna was aware of the difficulties previously faced before Covid-19 and knew the pandemic put a major burden on the educational system. UpSkill is fairly new, but she aspires to offer support so students through their educational journeys and goals.

An admirable trait about Julianna is her ability to create and excel in all her activities from school, to work, to clubs. In her determination to make UpSkill a success, she became president and established committees that uniquely support educational equity.

Her first committee is Fundraising/ Philanthropy which designs events centered on engaging SU and ESF students with the surrounding community to improve educational equity. Julianna says, “The money raised from these events is used to offer academic resources through UpSkill, support other educational organizations, and offer scholarships to students with financial needs.”

The tutoring and mentoring committee provides tutoring to students in the Syracuse district and designated to helping improve students academic and leadership skills. Moreover, they work specifically with the North Side Learning Center which assists refugee students become acclimated with education in the U.S.

Additionally, the Raising Awareness/ Community Education committee is designed to educate members and students about educational equity.

Their role would be to propose ideas for guest speakers and workshops related to social and education issues in the local and larger communities. As a result, this would allow for educators to be updated with the up most recent educational disadvantages and utilize their knowledge to reduce inequities. Furthermore, they would also be responsible for creating fun graphics for social media. Lastly, the College Preparation Program for First-Generation Students committee was designed to support and assist first-generation students in applying for colleges; activities include working on the common application as well as FASFA.

To ensure the success of their new program, Julianna plans to serve as president through spring 2023. Her successes include being approved as a 501c non-profit, securing a collaboration with North Side Learning Center, creating a new website, doubling membership size, and creating strong committees.

Her goals are to increase involvement with NSLC, become engaged with other organizations like the Catholic Charities as well as the Boys and Girls Club. She will continue making a more accessible and interactive media platform while maintaining her excellence in all other departments.

Julianna exceeds the definition of success, between managing school, applying for medical school, volunteering at the hospital, and more; she manages to create an amazing resource for others. A dedication like hers is hard to find, and with her focus, UpSkill will always be on its way up.

Story by LaunchPad Zaccai Foundation Fellow Sydney Grosso ’23; photo supplied